Out­lander: the ul­ti­mate catch-up



TIME TRAVEL, High­land re­bel­lion, steamy ro­mance and vis­ceral vi­o­lence. Out­lander has now become as syn­ony­mous with Scot­land as tar­tan and short­bread. The show, based on the nov­els by Amer­i­can writer Diana Ga­bal­don, sees World War Two nurse Claire Fraser travel back in time to the Ja­co­bite ris­ings of the 1740s. It has mil­lions of view­ers on both the Starz chan­nel in the US and on Ama­zon Prime Video in the UK, mul­ti­ple awards and a de­voted fan fol­low­ing – it has also turned into a cash cow for the Scot­tish tourism in­dus­try, with Out­lander tours boom­ing. With the third sea­son hit­ting our screens last week and the fourth about to start film­ing on our doorstep, we bring you the ul­ti­mate catch-up. From the plot­lines to the frocks, and from the fem­i­nist crit­ics to the ul­tra-vi­o­lence, here’s what you need to know.


Out­lander is not short on plot. In brief: 1940s English nurse Claire Fraser, played by Caitri­ona Balfe, leans ab­sent-mind­edly on a stand­ing stone while hon­ey­moon­ing in Scot­land and finds her­self hurtling back to 1743. Life my be tough in 18th-cen­tury Scot­land, but hav­ing just sur­vived a mod­ern war, the tena­cious Claire take its bru­tal­ity in her stride and catches the eye of young High­land war­rior Jamie Fraser, played by the strap­ping, kilt-wear­ing Sam Heughan. He is not ad­verse to strip­ping off – and she is not ad­verse ei­ther.

Un­for­tu­nately, she also catches the eye of the show’s arch-vil­lain, Cap­tain “Black Jack” Ran­dall – who just hap­pens to be the 18th-cen­tury an­ces­tor of her mod­ern-day hus­band. Even­tu­ally, Claire weds heart­throb Jamie, but mar­riage is no safe haven as she is soon ac­cused of witch­craft and Jamie bru­tally raped in scenes which shocked fans. How­ever, soon they are re­united and es­cape to France, where sea­son two is set – many swashes are buck­led and the bat­tle to free Scot­land from the Red Coats goes on. Claire re­turns to the 20th cen­tury, and sea­son three opened last week with her con­tem­plat­ing her fu­ture – and the pain of sep­a­ra­tion from Jamie ... as a mother to a teenage daugh­ter in 1960s Bos­ton.

It might sound ex­haust­ing but TV au­di­ences have been lap­ping it up. In June this year the se­ries ar­rived on free-to-air TV chan­nel More4 to a record-break­ing au­di­ence of over one mil­lion view­ers, fol­low­ing sim­i­larly strong fig­ures on Ama­zon Prime Video. As a re­sult, Balfe and Heughan have become big names with star sta­tus and celebrity en­dorse­ments to match.


In the late 1980s, Diana Ga­bal­don, in­spired by that other fa­mous time trav­eller Doc­tor Who and in­trigued by whether she had what it took to pen a novel, sat down to write Out­lander. She claims she never in­tended to show it to any­one. It turned out to be the first of what is to date a nine­strong se­ries of books, which strad­dle al­most as many themes as they have de­voted fans.

The first seven books sold over 20 mil­lion copies be­fore syn­di­ca­tion rights were snapped up and a screen­play de­vel­oped by Ron­ald D Moore – fa­mous for his work on Bat­tlestar Galac­tica and Star Trek Next Gen­er­a­tion – and pro­duced by Sony Pic­tures Tele­vi­sion and Left Bank Pic­tures for Starz. Ga­bal­don, for­merly a re­search pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, is both co-pro­ducer and con­sul­tant.


The char­ac­ters may be larger than life but the cos­tumes also take cen­tre stage. For cos­tume designer Terry Dres­bach, who is also the wife of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ron­ald D Moore, de­tail is all. Out­fits are hand-dyed, painted or aged and even the but­tons are em­broi­dered. Ev­ery fe­male cast mem­ber wears a corset, and the men wear noth­ing un­der­neath their kilts. Twelve ver­sions of

Claire’s main 18th-cen­tury dress were made, and a to­tal of over 10,000 gar­ments were made for sea­son two alone – there are so many cos­tumes Dres­bach and her team use a dig­i­tal fil­ing sys­tem, called Mother, which sees ev­ery cos­tume bar­coded, logged on the com­puter, and stored ac­cord­ingly. The fashion in­flu­ence has not only spilled on to the cat­walks but spawned an Out­lander cloth­ing line. From the Caitri­ots, Heugh­li­gans and Men­zi­at­ics (devo­tees of Balfe, Heughan and To­bias Men­zies, who plays the show’s su­per-vil­lain Jack Ran­dall) to the US-based Out­lander Ad­dic­tion and the Out­landish Bak­ers, who track down the cast and crew on­set to de­liver home­made sweet treats, this is a phe­nom­e­non with some se­ri­ous su­per­fans. The stars pro­vide plenty to sat­isfy their ar­dour, in­ter­act­ing with fans on so­cial me­dia and even ap­pear­ing at Out­lander con­ven­tions and other events. The Sun­day Her­ald was even graced with Balfe and Heughan as guests at our Cul­ture Awards. An­gela Sasso, of UK fan club Out­landish UK, which now has over 2,700 mem­bers, says fans from around the world are ini­tially drawn to­gether online through their shared love of Out­lander but of­ten go on to form mean­ing­ful friend­ships. Out­landish first de­cided to hold a gath­er­ing for mem­bers in 2013. “The idea was for lunch and a walk in Ed­in­burgh,” she says. “We had so much in­ter­est it ended up a three-day event at­tended by 110 peo­ple.”

Since then, there have been a fur­ther two meet-ups, both at­tract­ing over 200 peo­ple. This year’s in­volved vis­its to lo­ca­tions as well as a sur­prise ap­pear­ance by Richard Rankin who plays Roger Wake­field, the love in­ter­est of Jamie and Claire’s daugh­ter Bri­anna Ran­dall. Be­ing a su­per fan has been a hugely pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­cord­ing to Sasso. “We are here to sup­port the books, the pro­duc­tion, the ac­tors be­cause they are do­ing a fab­u­lous job and we just want it to con­tinue,” she says.


It’s been de­scribed as a “bodice-rip­per” and a “guilty plea­sure” but ac­cord­ing to Dr Faye Woods, a tele­vi­sion re­searcher at Read­ing Univer­sity, the rea­son peo­ple are sniffy about Out­lander is that it con­cen­trates on the con­cerns of women. “Think about Har­lequin ro­mances and Mills & Boon and how their en­gage­ment with fe­male de­sire is dis­missed cul­tur­ally,” she ar­gues.

Sex and fe­male plea­sure are at the very cen­tre of sea­son one – Claire takes con­trol in the bed­room – but Woods claims many re­view­ers don’t know what to make of this as­pect. “As a cul­ture we’re still not re­ally sure how to talk about texts that cen­tralise or ex­plore the com­plex­i­ties of fe­male plea­sure and de­sire with­out triv­i­al­is­ing it,” she adds.

Jorie Lager­wey, lec­turer in tele­vi­sion stud­ies at Univer­sity Col­lege Dublin agrees. “TV crit­ics are of­ten in­vested in prestige or so-called ‘qual­ity’ tele­vi­sion, which means things that seem to tackle con­tem­po­rary so­cial is­sues look re­ally ex­pen­sive, have big en­sem­ble casts, and mul­ti­ple, com­plex on­go­ing sto­ry­lines,” she says. “They also are al­most al­ways about men.” Fun­nily enough the women-cen­tric plots don’t put off men – who make up about 50 per cent of view­ers – from

watch­ing Out­lander.


Out­lander is not for the faint-hearted. There is a lot of horror and rape, of­ten pro­longed and graphic. The bru­tal rape of Jamie in a tor­ture cham­ber by Cap­tain Ran­dall is one of the show’s most in­fa­mous to date. Some have found it sim­ply shock­ing, oth­ers have con­sid­ered it in a less lit­eral sense claim­ing that it is writ­ten as a metaphor about Eng­land’s bru­tal be­hav­iour towards Scot­land in the 1700s. To Dr Wil­liam Proc­tor, an ex­pert in pop­u­lar cul­ture at Bournemouth Univer­sity, the lack of con­tro­versy about the scene is sur­pris­ing. Cer­tain rep­re­sen­ta­tions of rape in fic­tion, such as the sex­ual as­sault of Sansa Stark in Game Of Thrones, at­tract a large amount of con­tro­versy while Out­lander has not been vil­i­fied in the same way, he says. “From a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, it is im­por­tant that male rape is rep­re­sented across me­dia plat­forms as it some­thing that is quite of­ten by­passed.”


Though Ga­bal­don’s books are set in Scot­land, orig­i­nally the pro­duc­tion team con­sid­ered shoot­ing in New Zealand and East­ern Europe. In the end most is shot in and around the High­lands with Glas­gow – which dou­bled for Bos­ton – and Ed­in­burgh hav­ing their mo­ments in the sun.

VisitS­cot­land fig­ures showed tourism re­ceived a cor­re­spond­ing boost. Be­tween 2014, when Out­lander first aired, and 2016, Doune Cas­tle (Cas­tle Leoch in the show) en­joyed a 91.8 per cent in­crease in visi­tors, from 47,069 to 90,279.

Black­ness Cas­tle, the set­ting for ma­li­cious Black Jack Ran­dall’s HQ, has wel­comed 85.3 per cent more visi­tors since 2014.

Out­lander tours can now be found across the coun­try.

Jenni Steele, film and cre­ative in­dus­tries man­ager at VisitS­cot­land, claims the level of in­ter­est shows no sign of slow­ing down. “It’s re­ally caught the imag­i­na­tion,” she says. “It’s about Scot­land’s her­itage and his­tory and it’s filmed on lo­ca­tion so it’s been a real boost for us.”

As well as cre­at­ing in­ter­est in lo­ca­tions she claimed Out­lander’s themes had also had an im­pact. “There’s been an in­crease in in­ter­est in ge­neal­ogy and clans,” she adds. “It’s emo­tive stuff and it re­ally con­nects peo­ple to Scot­land.”


It might seem like it’s just a great big romp of a TV drama, but with its Ja­co­bite plot­lines and its stars sup­port­ing Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence, David Cameron was far from a fan back at the time of the ref­er­en­dum.

Leaked emails pub­lished by Wik­iLeaks re­vealed that he’d met Sony rep­re­sen­ta­tives 10 weeks be­fore the ref­er­en­dum on Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence to dis­cuss the UK re­lease date, which it was ru­moured was due to be screened in the au­tumn of 2014.

The email, sent from Sony vi­cepres­i­dent Keith Weaver to chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Lyn­ton and other se­nior Sony fig­ures, out­lines the agenda, with par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to Out­lander’s im­por­tance “vis-à-vis the po­lit­i­cal is­sues in the UK as Scot­land con­tem­plates de­tach­ment this Fall”. In the end it went out in March 2015. We’ll just never know if an ear­lier trans­mis­sion date could have changed his­tory.

Left: Sam Heughan’s Jamie Fraser fights with arch neme­sis Jack Ran­dall, played by To­bias Men­zies. The ac­tor also plays the hus­band of Caitri­ona Balfe’s Claire Ran­dall, above. Be­low: So­phie Skel­ton and Richard Rankin as Bri­anna Ran­dall Fraser and Roger...

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